Working Holiday

 (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Working on holiday in Australia


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A man walked past me once wearing a t-shirt that read ‘A bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office’ it was obviously referring to surf culture but a philosophy that can apply to much in life I think. Something I have tried to bear in mind getting stuck into three months of rural work expected of me during my stay in Australia on a working holiday visa.

8 weeks ago I was a 9-5 product photographer in London spending most weekdays sat in front of a computer screen doing cut outs and touch ups when I wasn’t expected to cure cancer daily. Forward a couple of months and I find myself in the countryside of New South Wales, Australia. Serviced by dirt tracks, one pub and no mobile phone signal over any of the 360 stunning outback views. Sent here from Perth by a Silver Exploration company hoping to cash in on the recent spike in precious metals, a trend in Australia that has so far kept their heads above the economic waterline. Unfortunately for me my skills as a photographer are not required, instead 15,000 small packets of homogenized and ‘pulped’ rock sample assays from earlier drilling are in need of analysing for the hunt. Reading, filling in the odd crossword and writing all neatly condensed into the 30 seconds it takes me to scan every single sample. Tedious, slow, and the feeling that it will never come to an end, Prospecting has certainly changed from the days of panning for gold at the side of rivers. All these powder packets and the need to wear a mask, under a single light, in a haze of dust makes me feel like I work in a Hollywood drug lab.

It’s a lot like the film ‘Groundhog Day’ every day the same, 10 hour days for three weeks without a break, only what you can scrape together in the evenings. I am not complaining, I only have to walk a few meters outside the big shed door to see that I made the right decision. Surrounded on all sides by the intensely beautiful Blue Mountains part of the ‘Great Dividing Range’, open plains grazed by livestock and the occasional passing family of Kangaroos. Every morning brightly coloured birds fill the garden and sing, one even sounding like someone softly whistling a children’s lullaby.

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The temperature is slowly rising as the season moves into summer although it never really gets too cold, weather reports claiming ‘there’s a chill in the air’ when the thermometer gets to a dazzlingly low 16 degrees, the kind that string-vested northerners would claim was a heat wave. It’s not allowed to be hot though, as I am reminded by field assistant Neil: ‘you wanna come with me up to queens land, now that’s hot’, what with temperatures regularly touching 40 degrees in its peak not dropping much below 30 during the night added to the heavy humidity it would be like walking around all day in a warm bath then sleeping in it. Looking forward to travelling up there soon however making the most of the relative mild weather.

As travel jobs in this part of the world go I am lucky, I get paid, many backpackers find themselves working for room and board only, I would quite happily do the same, although the money certainly helps, Australia is an expensive place. Without the same kind of competition found in the UK high street the cost of living is higher, leading to many Brits quitting Australia[1], be ready to pay $3.50 (about £2) for a single Capsicum pepper, used cars are by far over priced, basic seats and a steering wheel will set you back $2000, inches from scrap and with the feeling the police are stalking you at every turn. By comparison, some electrical goods are cheap, an unbranded but full featured 32 inch flat screen TV can be picked up for around $300, though, not really part of the average backpacker shopping list.

There is a good chance that when you read this, I will still be here, scanning through the samples. I’m not worried though; a bad day doing this is way better than a good day in the office.


[1] Bosworth, Mark. “Why are so many Britons Leaving Australia”, BBC News Magazine 23/11/2011,

  1. May 29, 2013

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